Dining out while gluten-free is challenging. These tips will help.
Although I’ve been gluten-free for over eight years, dining out safely can still be a challenge for me. Ask anyone with celiac disease and they’ll likely say the same. Every time we try a new dining place, there’s uneasiness, no matter how safe the restaurant seems.
But we can’t stay home forever. There are friends and family to see and social activities that usually revolve around food and restaurants.
These five key phrases, said to your waiter when you order, will help make your dining-out experience safer and easier.
1. Say You Have Celiac Disease
Start your order by saying, “I have celiac disease.” This statement immediately sets you apart from dietary fads, trends and gluten-free wannabes. If your waiter has any idea about celiac disease, he or she will take your order more seriously and make a note to the chef.
2. Say You Are Very Allergic to Gluten
Then say, “I am extremely allergic to gluten.” You and I know that celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, not an allergy. But for waitstaff who don’t understand much about celiac disease, the word “allergy” is a flag. It catches their attention and makes them take your order more seriously. The combination of “celiac disease” and “allergic to gluten” gets your message across. Again, your goal is to separate yourself from the fad gluten-free eaters and this is the way to do it.
3. Ask An Annoying Number of Questions
Ask questions, especially if you’re ordering something with a high risk of cross-contamination. If you want to order French fries, ask if they’re made in a shared fryer. If you want to order a salad, ask if it’s usually served with croutons on top. If you want to order meat, ask if it’s breaded and if the meat-prep area is also used for bread items.
4. Mention Cross-Contamination
Make it clear that the staff should change their gloves to avoid cross-contamination. In restaurants, the kitchen staff may not be aware that they should put on clean gloves for you. So ask your server to remind them to do this. It will help you avoid a common source of cross-contamination in restaurants. This is particularly important in fast-casual joints like Chipotle, where cross-contamination from servers’ gloves presents a real risk.
5. Be Extra Gracious to Your Server
Be sure to say “thank you.” Whenever the waiter and chef are accommodating, thank them. It’s extra work for them to ensure that your order is gluten-free. Let them know you appreciate their efforts and that you’ll be back and tell your friends.
The Usual Suspects
Here are four places where gluten can commonly lurk in restaurants.
Most restaurants use the same fryer for everything they fry. Breaded chicken wings and breaded fish are prepared in the same fryer as French fries. Always ask if the kitchen has a dedicated gluten-free fryer. If it doesn’t, steer clear.
Many restaurants toast hamburger buns and other gluten-full items on their grill. Ask if they grill buns or anything else with gluten on the same surface as your order. If so, ask them to kindly clean the grill surface before your order is cooked—or order something else.
Many restaurant kitchens have a salad station where the staff prepares all the salads on the menu. This station contains bins of lettuce, vegetables, dressings and, yes, croutons. It’s easy for crouton crumbs to accidentally get into the other salad ingredients. Not all
restaurants are set up this way. If you order a salad, ask your waiter about this.
Be cautious about ordering “gluten-free pizza” at a restaurant. Most restaurants and pizza places use the same surface and oven to prepare all their pizzas. Be sure they have a dedicated prep area and dedicated equipment or they place parchment paper to keep your pizza safer.